by Ha‘aheo Auwae-Dekker and Namaka Auwae-Dekker
To write a proper tribute for a woman who was as powerful as Kumu Haunani-Kay Trask means knowing that this one will never do her justice. This tribute to her simply comes from two displaced Kanaka Maoli who found a home in her words and the kindling to start the fire in our na‘au in her voice.
Professor Emerita Haunani-Kay Trask was a Native Hawaiian (Kanaka Maoli) activist, scholar, poet, educator, and mana wahine who was a core visionary to the modern Hawaiian Movement. She was an unyielding force of nature devoted to Hawai‘i, Ka Lahui, and Indigenous peoples around the world. An advocate for communities across the globe, Trask notably addressed the United Nations and worked with community leaders in New Zealand, across North America, Spain, and many more.
Trask, after graduating Kamehameha School in 1967, went on to the University of Chicago and later the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she became a vocal supporter of the Black Panther Party and the anti-war protests surrounding the Vietnam War. Her active role in political movements on the mainland left a lasting impact on her, with a critical lens on racism and capitalism in much of her writings. Her ability to weave Indigenous beliefs with an intersectional lens left a profound impact on communities and activists yearning for change. In a political science field dominated by non-Indigenous peoples, she was a breath of fresh air. Trask not only was a fierce opponent of capitalism and racism, she was an active voice for Indigenous women around the globe who had continued to be silenced. Her activism spans decades and her impact leaves a fierce legacy that is felt by many.
The first writing of Haunani-Kay Trask that Namaka was introduced to was a scalding response Trask wrote during her time as a professor at the University of Manoa, Hawai’i. An undergraduate student, Joey Carter, was a harsh protester of the word “haole,” a Hawaiian word meaning foreigner. He viewed it as a slur towards white people and was staunchly against the use of it in any setting. Reading Trask’s op-ed, an essay that was both academically informed and ruthlessly powerful, created a vision of unapologetic strength. Trask dissected his argument part by part, leaving little room for objection. She was not timid in the face of fragile white men, or in the face of anyone. She had the ability to wield her words and voice to educate and inspire.
The first time Ha‘aheo heard Trask’s voice was when she brutally answered the call of a white woman on a show. The video comes from a clip of a 1990 show called Island Issues, where Kumu Haunani Kay Trask was invited to discuss racism in Hawai‘i. In this call, the white woman says, “You know, you always blame it on the white man. That we came over and buy up your land. I don’t understand, when the Japanese come over and buy up your land, and that’s okay? I don’t understand this whole haoles coming over and buying up your land, you come over and buy up our land too. You know it works both ways, this is America you know?”
Trask responds to this ignorant caller with a crash course in American Imperialism and just how far the American Empire stretches. She absolutely dominates with her strong voice as she slams the white woman for making assumptions about Trask and our people. Ha‘aheo first heard this exchange in senior year of high school while working on their senior project. Since then they have had Trask’s words memorized in their head. To hear a Hawaiian woman speak with such strength on the history of colonialism and imperialism that permeates the world moved them.
Trask’s presence is felt in the hearts of so many people. She is felt in ours. When learning of Kumu Haunani’s transition to the realm of our ancestors, a deep sorrow burrowed itself into Ha’aheo’s heart. A sorrow as cavernous as the darkness found in the Kumulipo. Their eyes have continued to be pricked with tears like the pricking of kiawe tree thorns. To lose her is to lose a warmth they never knew they needed.
Kumu Haunani Kay Trask taught us to fiercely oppose the militarism and tourism present on the islands, she taught us to fight continuously for justice and for sovereignty, and she taught us to love our people and our history. We learned what it means to be modern Kanaka Maoli in this world. As two Hawaiian siblings living in the mainland, Trask united us in our Hawaiian identity in ways that expanded our pride and voices. Her words continue to echo for us, “We are not American. Say it in your heart. Say it when you sleep. We are not American. We will die as Hawaiians. We will never be Americans!” Namaka will never be American. Ha‘aheo will never be American. We will always be Hawaiian. Namaka and I have learned from Trask to never stay silent. To be silent is to be a participant in the violence of systems of capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism. To be silent is to be American.
To honor Trask’s memory and her work, we must never be silent. We must continue to fight for the justice of peoples around the world. It is our kuleana to continue her legacy of social change and Indigeneity. She was our kumu and our elder in showing us how to show up for our community, it is our turn to show her that we can achieve the task of trekking that path she has created. Haunani-Kay Trask, you were a light in my life in a dark forest. The path you created has carved itself within us and with this torch we hope to honor your memory.
Ha’aheo Auwae-Dekker is a 21-year-old artist and creative currently attending Seattle University where they study filmmaking. Since high school, they have facilitated workshops on imperialism, race, and migration in the world.
Namaka Auwae-Dekker is a young visionary living in Seattle. She has led workshops on disability justice, indigenous education, and colonialism, and is currently working in the special education department towards a degree in early education.
Activist photographer Ed Greevy has been capturing Hawaiʻi’s story since the 1970s. He has documented political struggles, the Hawaiian Sovereignty movement, and other land development conflicts for half a century and has an archive of over 100,000 images. www.edgreevy.com
📸 Featured Image: Haunani-Kay Trask sitting at a table at the UH YWCA, where Trask and Greevy were looking for display gallery venues. (Photo: Ed Greevy)
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